Christopher Joseph Lanzillo, a private investigator hired by the Costa Mesa Police Officers' Association, was sentenced Friday to one year in county jail and three years probation for trying to entrap two Costa Mesa city councilmen in embarrassing and illegal acts.
Lanzillo of Lake Arrowhead pleaded guilty in September to three felony counts of conspiracy and one felony false imprisonment charge for surveillance he and another private investigator did on Costa Mesa councilmen Steve Mensinger and Jim Righeimer in the months leading up to the 2012 election.
"I’ve had dozens of other elected officials come to me and say, 'the same thing happened to me. You guys are brave to do this, because none of us want to go against the police union,'" Mensinger said after the sentencing hearing.
At the time Lanzillo acted, Righeimer and Mensinger were part of a council majority embroiled in a battle with the city's public employee unions over their efforts to crack down on spiraling public employee pension costs and push the outsourcing of city services.
Prosecutors with the Orange County District Attorney's office alleged Lanzillo, a former Riverside police officer, and his partner, Scott Alan Impola, were hired by the union's law firm, the now-defunct Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, to dig up damaging information about the councilmen ahead of the election.
The criminal case against Impola is ongoing and Righeimer and Mensigner are still pursuing a separate civil lawsuit against the union and law firm for alleged harassment and intimidation.
Their civil lawsuit alleges the union, their law firm and Lanzillo engaged in a scheme to follow and illegally entrap Righeimer and accuse him of driving under the influence and lure Mensinger, who is married, into a compromising position with woman planted at a bar.
Lanzillo allegedly followed Righeimer home on August 22, 2012 from councilman Gary Monahan's Irish pub, Skosh Monahan's, and called 911 to report Righeimer was swerving in the road and stumbled out of his car.
A Costa Mesa police officer arrived on scene and administered a sobriety test, which Righeimer passed.
Mensinger said Lanzillo's sentence should send a message to the public and police unions that "elected officials cannot be extorted."
"People along the way questioned us and why we were doing what we were doing, and this is a vindication," said Mensinger. "But it doesn't remove the stigma, and it doesn't give us answers of who was involved in the police union."
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